The Earth is flat and you need to know why!

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If you’re reading this, my title clearly worked. Today’s blog is slightly different and concerns how we are currently consuming information and generating truth. Being someone who is immersed in an academic setting with aims to generate new and reliable information, this topic is of great interest. Before we continue, rest assured, I do not believe the earth is flat.

The idea for this blog came about after watching the Netflix documentary, “Behind the Curve”. The documentary offers an insight into the new and every growing Flat Earth community headed by the prominent Flat-Earther himself, Mark Sargent. Throughout the documentary, the Flat Earth advocates demonstrate and discuss their so called ‘scientific’ experimental approaches to proving the Earth is in fact, a pancake. *Spoiler alert* the final scene shows that their experiments achieve the very opposite and do, in fact, disprove the theory.

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Their experiment that disproved flat earth theory

The producers also offer the perspectives of scientists on the flat Earth movement who, of course, dismiss the idea entirely. Whilst entertaining, this had me thinking, despite the science and objective evidence telling us the Earth is a globe, how and why do ‘theories’ and beliefs like this come about? Personally, I feel we have reached a point where the truth is simply being lost and misconstrued in the midst of an endless sea of misinformation.

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There has always been misinformation, fake news, conspiracy theories, hoaxes etc. but now with the world being so globally connected and communication being so easy, anyone with a phone, laptop or tablet can spread their message (whether true of false). Unfortunately, this has created an invasion of fake news and due to their, somewhat, extreme and click provoking titles, for example, “Pope Francis shocks world, endorses Donald Trump for president” (I mean its hard not to click on this story) these fake stories spread like wildfire. On Twitter alone, it is believed fake news can spread six times faster than true news!

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Fake news doesn’t only effect our consumption of social information but also the world of science. In recent years, the world of fake news and science have clashed heads and become increasingly interactive globally and we are now seeing an influx of fake science circulating within the media. Only in the past year have we seen statements published in respected sources such as, “drinking water flushes out the virus”, or the more renown, “injecting disinfectants into the body could kill the COVID virus” from Donald Trump, one of the most powerful people at the time! In fact, in his first year of office, Donald Trump reportedly made 2,150 false claims, averaging at 5.9 a day! How on earth are we meant to know what is true anymore if we have to disregard the words from one of the worlds most powerful leaders?

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“You are fake news!”

Unfortunately, This fake news/fake science cycle critically undermines the credibility of true science and ultimately stifles the capacity for individuals and societies to make educated and evidence-based decisions in their best interest. For example, rather than following what the science is telling us, people still insist that wearing a mask is not in their best interest and, furthermore, believe it actually causes COVID-19. Moreover, despite the proven efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine people still don’t want to be vaccinated and believe it is instead a tracking device. These poorly informed decisions and really the lack of reliable knowledge surrounding these global issues can not only place individual’s health at risk but can also alter policy at the highest level (e.g. the denial of climate change), placing entire populations at increased harm.

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One more important point I want to briefly draw upon is the growing issue of believing what you want to believe“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts” – This quote speaks volumes and offers reasoning as to how such radical ideologies are developed and agreed upon by so many people. Social media has been the predominant driver behind this as the algorithms connect users with like-minded people and supplies them with a customised news feeds that reinforce their own beliefs. Social media ultimately allows people to live their lives through a distorted and narrow lens where the real truth gets easily lost. This is how such movements like the flat Earth begin. However, these are simply beliefs and opinions, NOT FACTS.

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Going back to the documentary, this is exactly how the Flat Earth community operated. They reduced their social interactions to people who held the same beliefs as them and disregarded any scientific information that suggested otherwise. This is similar to many other movements like the anti-maskers, anti-vaccinators and the denial of climate change. The real issue is that these communities believe they hold all the facts and their ignorance towards science as a reliable and trustworthy source of data is increasingly alarming. To quote Mark Sargent “The reason we are winning versus science, is science just throws back maths…. we use common sense”.

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We are in a serious fake news/fake science crisis where the trust and reliance upon science is diminishing. Science is an incredibly vital means of producing reliable and robust knowledge and getting to what approximates the truth. In my field, we use rigorous study designs comprising of control groups, placebos, randomisation, structured interventions, large sample sizes and much more, in an attempt to produce meaningful findings. Fake news, on the other hand, is simply a mixture of distorted beliefs that are a misrepresentation of reality. Despite this, it appears fake news is having a greater and greater influence over the decision making of individuals and even government policy. To resolve this we need science to once again become a valued and respected part of society so decisions that effect us all are educated and grounded in evidence. Without listening to the science, we risk making disastrous decisions.

Will

PhD powered by The Leadership High – https://theleadershiphigh.com/

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